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Late in 2001, tough economic times in Buenos Aires mean that Beba, a slim, blond, and privileged divorcée, has no money to pay Dora, a doughy, nearly-silent maid who has lived with her for almost 30 years. Dora breaths in her dignity and resigns. She wants to finish work on her own house, with her less than reliable mate, Miguel. She also looks for a new job. Beba asks her ex-husband for financial help. He demurs. Can Beba adjust to new realities, find a way to pay Dora, and honor her lifetime of service, and can either make a life without the other? Does sisterhood cross class lines? Written by
Beautifully written and directed by Jorge Gaggero, "Live-in Maid" is a bit like an Argentine version of "Driving Miss Daisy." Beba (Norma Aleandro) is an aging divorcée from the privileged upper classes whose ever-worsening financial situation is making it harder and harder for her to maintain herself in the style to which she is accustomed - including paying the salary of Dora (Norma Argentina), her loyal but long-suffering housekeeper who has put up with her boss' moodiness, petulance and condescending attitude for thirty years now. Yet, as in "Miss Daisy," the relationship between these two women cannot be pigeonholed quite so neatly. In fact, their story, rich in ambiguity and emotional complexity, comes to reflect in miniature the much broader conflict that exists between the ruling class and the servant class in our society.
In truth, there is no logical reason why these two individuals from wildly divergent social backgrounds should even be expected to get along at all. Certainly, Dora has every reason to resent Beba for her privilege, her rank and the often imperious manner in which she treats her. Yet, in her own way, the stoic, taciturn Dora comes to pity Beba for the hard times, both financially and emotionally, that the previously pampered woman suddenly finds herself going through. Indeed, things get so bad for Beba that she is forced to sell virtually everything she owns to keep herself afloat, and even has to humiliate herself by trading merchandise for food in a second-rate cafeteria. In addition, Beba's grown daughter wants to play as little a part in her mother's life as possible. In the same way, although Beba clearly doesn't treat Dora as her equal, she understands deep down inside that this "subordinate" is also probably the only real companion left to her in the world, the one person she can reach out to for comfort and support. The relationship between them may be one of mistress and servant, but the two parties also have much that unites them, including the problems common to women their age, their concomitant struggles with money, and the fact that fate has thrust them together for such prolonged and extended periods of time that they can't help but get to know one another on an intimate level. It is the discovery of their common humanity, brought about by this enforced closeness, that finally allows their relationship to blossom into a friendship between equals that crosses class lines.
On a sociological level, the movie points out the irony that it is the people with the most power who, when the chips are down, are really the most helpless and fragile - and the people with the least power who are the most persevering and tough and seemingly most equipped to cope with the vicissitudes of life.
Superbly understated performances by the pair of Normas - their scenes together are really quite breathtaking and quietly masterful - as well as flavorful and subtle storytelling make "Live-in Maid" an intensely poignant, wholly believable and thoroughly absorbing experience throughout.
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